We are not quite back to where we were this time last year, but there are similarities. The government is again ignoring the science and its own advisors in refusing to bring in Plan B, measures to increase social distancing, while the infection rate is still rising.
(Perhaps an autumn of dithering and an abrupt change of direction and lockdown just before Christmas will become one of those quaint British Nativity traditions, like children singing “Little Donkey” in the village hall and the John Lewis advert. We must hope not.)
Pandemic Plan B?
But it seems pretty obvious that some sort of special measures will again be needed. The indications are that advice on more working from home is the favoured one at the moment. A return to mandatory mask wearing cannot be ruled out.
There are two reasons, though, why this may not be enough. The evidence suggests that immunity from vaccination wanes over time. Hence the need for a third, or booster, jab.
There are signs that the roll-out for these vaccines is not going as well as last time. The government has just brought Emily Lawson, who was widely credited with that success last time, back to oversee the programme, in order to address such concerns.
My local surgery was doing a roaring trade the other day in the booster vaccine, being given to the very elderly. However there are still bugs in the system.
If, as suspected, immunity starts to wane after six months then those, like me, who got the jabs in February and thereafter will start to lose some protection this winter. This suggests a “vulnerability window” may open up for them. At present, if I understand the numbers, in any new case the unvaccinated are something like five times more likely to die of the virus than those with the vaccine. This gap could then narrow, and not in the right direction.
People are fed up
The second potential pitfall is compliance. There are, again, two reasons why this could be a problem. One, people are heartily sick of any restrictions, and there is a sense among some of, ‘I thought this was all over. Do we have to go through all this again?’
I was in London a while back, the first time in 18 months. I was in a pub near where we used to live. It was jammed, to the point when it was hard to get to the bar, and people were spilling out into the street. Jammed with 20-somethings, some probably not yet fully vaccinated or vaccinated at all, screaming at the top of their voices. Not a mask in sight.
Masks are becoming politicised
If masks are again made mandatory, how many will wear them? Especially now one government minister has indicated they are a form of “virtue signalling”.
And a large chunk of the Tory right, such as Steve Baker’s Covid Recovery Group, are dead set against any further measures, to the extent that they may not back the necessary legislation, if this becomes necessary.
One rule for them
The second reason for non-compliance of any new measures is that we now have enough evidence that senior members of the government will not feel bound by them. We had Barnard Castle, then Matt Hancock caught on camera. We now know the Prime Minister drafted in his wife’s best friend over Christmas to help with the childcare, apparently.
(There may be a fourth example that I am not going to mention for legal reasons. Some of you will know what this is. It seems to be an open secret within the Westminster bubble.)
Will people be prepared to have another Christmas ruined, if necessary, in the light of all this? Trust in the government was seen to fall sharply after Barnard Castle. Some will comply. Others, and it could be a worryingly high percentage in terms of limiting the spread of the virus, will not.
Anti-vax sentiment is on the rise
They will, inevitably, include the anti-vaxxers. It is worth looking at how we got to this strange place, with mobs of lunatics roaming the country, some attempting to serve quasi-legal documents on doctors and nurses trying to do their best in the pandemic, and on school staff.
The answer, I think, is the Internet and our old friend, confirmation bias. Twenty years ago, if you believed a mad theory – the CIA shot JFK, the moon landings were faked, the world is ruled by alien lizards – you were unlikely to meet, in your normal life, anyone who shared your belief.
Nowadays these can be found in seconds on the Internet. As people group together to share their views, they are reinforced. Almost all technology, however beneficial, comes with its downside.
The clearest exceptions to this rule lie within medicine, which has generally led to unmitigated benefits. One example being, well… vaccines.